This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th – October 3rd, 2014, is a brief synopsis of the history of astronautics in Canada.
The author wishes to thank the late Dr Phil Lapp and his wife Colleen Lapp for their permission to reveal some of Dr Lapp’s memoirs. Dr Lapp was a founder of the the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) and of SPAR Aerospace.
He passed away in 2013; the text herein was written by Robert Godwin.
In 1953, while on short leave from Bell Aircraft, at the James Forrestal Research Center in Princeton New Jersey, Kurt Stehling published a paper in which he described the advantages of using space-borne radar to “paint the surface of the Earth” and transmit the data back to the ground for study.[i]
In the years ahead space radar mapping technology would become one of Canada’s main fortés in space science and astronautics.
In July 1955 James Van Allen and Stehling’s rockoons would be covered in Time magazine. Five months later Stehling was recruited by the US Navy to work on their proposed earth satellite program.[iii] In 1956 the US government, in conjunction with the Canadian Defense Research Board (CDRB) announced that rockoons would be fired from ships in Frobisher Bay, and from Fort Churchill Manitoba and Baffin Island to study the upper atmosphere.[iv]
Indirectly, Stehling was bringing about the very role in space science that he had advocated for Canada back in 1948. He continued his swift ascent in the US space program and would establish a reputation for many progressive ideas, including inflatable space station modules.
Stehling was also the first to suggest that women astronauts, given equal training, would make better astronauts both physically and psychologically.[v]
Perhaps most importantly, he also contributed to the establishment of a US national space agency. Stehling was on the Rocket and Satellite Research Panel (along with Wernher von Braun[vi], Krafft Ehricke, James van Allen, Ernst Stuhlinger, Fred Whipple and others) which urged U.S. President Eisenhower in 1957 to form NASA.[vii]
Canada had played an important role in the two International Polar Year’s and so, along with many other countries, Canadian researchers recognized the importance of contributing to the proposed International Geophysical Year. In this regard Canada already offered a convenient vantage point for studying the high northern latitudes and particularly the Earth’s magnetic field. Therefore an arrangement was made in 1955 to establish a permanent scientific research establishment at Fort Churchill, with funding provided by the US Army.
The location selected at the mouth of the Churchill River had been used for vital observations as early as 1769 when astronomers William Wales and Joseph Dymond from the Royal Society traveled there to record a transit of Venus across the Sun. Wales and Dymond built two observatories at the Prince of Wales Fort which they used for the event.[viii] 186 years later the Churchill Research Range came into existence as one of the world’s key places for launching sounding rockets to the ionosphere and beyond.
The following year, just before the launch of Sputnik 1, the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) commissioned a domestic rocket program which would eventually be named Black Brant.
This design and development program was to be undertaken by a Canadian based branch supplier of components to the Air Force’s CF-100 interceptor program, named the British Bristol Aeroplane Company. The Black Brant rocket, designed by Albert Fia of Alberta, would be the nearest thing to a space launcher that Canada would develop and over the next decade would become one of the two most expensive programs undertaken in Canadian space research.[ix]
The launch facilities at Churchill would quickly evolve and be able to accommodate a variety of medium size US-built rockets including the Arcas, Nike, Apache, Tomahawk, Astrobee, Aerobee and Javelin as well as the Canadian built and rapidly evolving Black Brant.
While things were getting up to speed at Churchill, back at Downsview Dr Phil Lapp, an engineer at DeHavilland, recognized the need for Canada to become more involved in the new science of astronautics. Immediately following the launch and consequent political shock of Sputnik 1, Lapp arranged for his colleagues at Downsview to start an informal astronautical group which he dubbed, The Canadian Astronautical Society (CAS).
The group had their first meeting on January 8th 1958 at the Special Projects office of DeHavilland in Downsview.[x] Over the next two years many meetings of the CAS took place, usually with invited guest speakers. One such speaker that Dr Lapp remembered with fondness was his old mentor Dr Charles Draper, the famed MIT scientist. In 1950 Lapp had earned one of the coveted positions to study for his graduate work at Draper’s labs in the United States.
[i] New York Times, Aug 6 1953
[ii] Journal of the American Rocket Society Mar-Apr 1953
[iii] Globe and Mail December 14th 1955
[iv] Ibid. April 12th 1956
[v] Milwaukee Journal Sep 6 1955
[vi] Von Braun and British Interplanetary Society Chairman Arthur C. Clarke had both been on a multi-year program to persuade the residents of the USA and UK that space flight was inevitable. Both also published extensive prognostications in Canada, Clarke in 1947 in the Toronto Star and von Braun in 1956 in MacLeans Magazine.
[vii] New York Times Jul 30 1955, Dec 13 1957, Apr 10 1960
[ix] Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada, Chapman, Lapp, Patterson, Forsyth, Science Secretariat, 1967
[x] Phil Lapp Memoir Pg 117
Next Week: “That Watershed Year when the Best Canadian Engineers moved to the US,” as part 5 of “100 years of Aerospace History in Canada: From McCurdy to Hadfield” continues!
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